GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 14 Oct) – The Commission on Elections (Comelec) will work on the massive registration of physically challenged voters or persons with disabilities (PWDs) within the next two years in preparation for the planned nationwide rollout of “accessible polling places” (APP) for the sector in the 2016 national and local elections.
Comelec Commissioner Grace Padaca said they are targeting to sign up all PWDs in every locality in the country who are already of voting age to facilitate the proper establishment of the APPs and the provision of other necessary services for them during the polls.
She cited that out of the estimated 5 million PWDs in the country who are already of voting age, the Comelec has identified or registered around 362,000 of them so far.
In the last May 13 elections, Comelec records showed that a total of 362,113 of the 52,014,648 voters were PWDs.
The figures increased by around 62,000 based on the nearly 300,000 PWDs registered in the 2010 polls.
“The challenge for us now is to register all our PWDs before the 2016 elections,” Padaca told reporters following the launching of the pilot APP for the Oct. 28 barangay polls at the SM City General Santos on Saturday.
The Comelec earlier picked Barangay Lagao here as one of the four pilot testing areas in the country for the implementation of Republic Act (RA) 10366, which authorized the poll body “to establish precincts assigned to accessible polling places exclusively for persons with disabilities and senior citizens.”
The official said Barangay Lagao will mainly serve as the project’s main testing site for Mindanao in the upcoming barangay elections.
The other pilot sites are barangays Sabang in Lipa City for Luzon, 679 in Manila for the National Capital Region and Mabolo in Cebu City.
Padaca, who heads the Comelec’s committee on PWDs and senior citizens, acknowledged that the poll body had been facing difficulty in terms of the registration of the PWDs due to the lack of appropriate forms.
Unlike the senior citizens, who are automatically enlisted through the determination of their ages, she said PWDs are usually not registered until they make an appearance at local election offices.
To address the problem, she said the Comelec will come up with a special form that will be released to election offices in the country for the PWD registration.
“As of now, we don’t have the forms yet that will validate our PWDs but we’re already working on them,” Padaca said.
The official said they will also conduct a massive information and education campaign to encourage more PWDs to register with the Comelec.
“This is to make sure that they will be properly considered by the time we establish the APPs in their localities,” she added.
Meantime, lawyer Michael Abas, Comelec Region 12 director, said they have yet to organize their records regarding the PWD voters within the region.
“We have some PWDs who registered with our election offices but the total number is not that significant,” he said.
Abas said he has instructed local election officers to encourage PWD voters in their areas to properly register and conduct information and education activities regarding their rights and privileges during the elections.